…Snowy Owls, that is. (see update at bottom)
There are currently 3 confirmed sightings of Snowy Owls within our state’s borders, two in eastern NC, the other just showed up in Wake County. That’s right, Wake County! These large, white diurnal owls are creatures of the arctic tundra!!
One of the eastern birds is on the Outer Banks at Cape Point, near Buxton. Snowy number two is in Hyde County near Englehard, which is east of Lake Mattamuskeet. The Wake County bird is at the Raleigh Neuse River Waste Water Treatment Plant.
Here are photos of each, courtesy of the Carolina Bird Club’s web site:
This has been an exceptional year for these visitors from the arctic tundra. A map put out on November 30 by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History shows Snowy Owl sightings up until that date.
You may notice that two of those red markers are on the NC coast. The Wake County bird was just photographed and reported yesterday (12/2/13) so it does not appear on the map.
So, what are all of these Snowy Owls doing way down here away from their traditional range of arctic tundra? Every year a few of them, usually young of the year, make it as far as southern Canada or Northeastern United States. The movement south probably has something to do with the availability of food on their natural open tundra habitat and the number of young produced in a given year.
It’s suggested that when the lemming population crashes (one of their main prey items), more owls move south. Also, in an exceptional year when many young are produced there may be more individuals moving south in search of unclaimed foraging areas, and of course food. Most of the birds we see in the US are young birds.
If you can make a trip to see one of these birds I would highly recommend it. To see a Snowy Owl in person is quite a thrill. Even if you dislike birds in general, I guarantee that the sight of a Snowy Owl will move you.
The water treatment plant in Wake County is not open to the public, so unless that bird moves to a more accessible location you’ll have to go the the coast to see one. It’s worth it!
Check Carolinabirds ListServ for current status of the birds, if they’re still at the same locations, where they may have moved, etc. Once they find a suitable location with plenty of food they often stick around, as long as they’re not harassed by us humans, which is a good thing to remember. Don’t approach too closely.
By the way, if standing out in the open on a windy, cold beach in winter to gawk at an owl is not quite your cup of tea, there’s been a report of a Snowy Owl in Bermuda!!
Since posting this yesterday (12/3/13) the Bonner Birdge, the only land access to Hatteras, has been closed for safety reasons. It’s not likely to reopen soon. So, unless you want to take a ferry over to Hatteras to see the “Hatteras” Snowy Owl there’ll be no easy way to get there. Local residents, essential traffic, and emergency vehicles get priority on the ferry, so expect a wait.
There has been no update of the Hyde County Snowy.
The Wake County Snowy was NOT seen yesterday (12/13/13). There’s a possibility that the bird is still in the area, there are farm fields nearby. It may, however, have moved on to more fertile pastures.
I just saw a report from Newfoundland where there were 138 Snowy Owls counted in that Canadian Province, so there may be more snowys on the way.